Entering Tuesday’s battle with Ohio State, Maryland was in the midst of a three-point shooting slump. In their previous six power five matchups (dating back to December 1st) the Terps were shooting a woeful 28 percent from deep.
But in the first half of the contest with the Buckeyes, something clicked. The Terps suddenly couldn’t miss from deep. Sophomore guard Eric Ayala converted the team’s first field goal on a jumper from long range. Later, the first half scoring was capped by a run of three-pointers on consecutive possessions with makes by Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith and Donta Scott. Overall, the Terps made seven threes in the first half, which is their most in any half this season.
Maryland three-point totals (in power five games since December 1st)
|Anthony Cowan||14-46||30.4 %|
|Eric Ayala||8-35||22.8 %|
|Jalen Smith||9-22||40.9 %|
|Donta Scott||5-19||26.3 %|
|Darryl Morsell||6-11||54.5 %|
|Hakim Hart||1-8||25.0 %|
|Serrell Smith||1-3||33.3 %|
So what changed? Well, maybe nothing. Head coach Mark Turgeon believes he has a more than capable outside shooting group and Tuesday was a reflection of that translating to the game. According to Turgeon, in the last three “charted” practices, the Terps have shot over 40 percent from three.
“I wasn’t surprised because we’ve been shooting the ball really well in practice and in scrimmages,” said Turgeon. “We got a couple guys right now who are much better shooters than they are shooting. Hopefully they’ll start making shots and that will open things up for Anthony. It’s coming.”
Those “guys” that Turgeon is referring to are likely the duo of Ayala and Aaron Wiggins. As freshmen, Wiggins and Ayala led the team in three point percentage, both better than a 40 percent clip. Now as sophomores, both players are officially in a shooting funk. Even in the three-point barrage against the Buckeyes, Wiggins and Ayala could not find a rhythm going 1-7.
“Miss or make, it’s gonna go in once in a while. I don’t really think too much of it,” said Ayala. “I know what I am capable of shooting from three. I hit ‘em when it count.”
Ayala and Wiggins are, by all accounts, hard-working and experienced guys so it’s quite odd to see them each have an over 10 percent decline from deep. So why would that be? For one, both players have seen increased roles. Naturally, taking more shots will decrease the percentage. They also have seen less open looks this season as there is no Bruno Fernando being double teamed in the post to create five on four opportunities.
Still, even the open looks just aren’t dropping. Wiggins has a pure shooting stroke that has NBA scouts excited about his potential. Ayala’s jumper is a little different, bringing the ball close to his chest and having a lower release point. But he’s proven he can make jumpers at a consistent rate.
Despite the inconsistency as of late, Ayala and Wiggins’ teammates have not lost any faith in them. Their peers know exactly what the duo is capable of doing.
“It’s just shots not falling. I’m confident in every shooter we have on this team,” said Jalen Smith, who has been much better himself from three as of late. “I just know they’re gonna hit shots but right now they gotta find their touch. I’m not worried about it one bit.
While Wiggins and Ayala are struggling to hit threes, they are doing enough good things elsewhere to add value to their team. Ayala has settled into his role as the sixth man and has been a spark for the Terps off the bench. Against Ohio State, he finished with a team-high four assists and a +15 plus/minus.
Wiggins, meanwhile, has turned into a terrific perimeter defender. He constantly makes one or two plays each game that just make you say “wow”, like this transition slam against Ohio State.
Still, this roster is on pace to finish as Mark Turgeon’s worst three-point shooting team in his tenure at Maryland. They rank in the bottom half in three-point percentage nationally, which is not a recipe for success.
The Terps have the defense and offensive pieces to make a deep run in March, but to reach their ceiling they’ll need to improve their outside shooting. And a large chunk of that falls on the shoulders of the Ayala and Wiggins.
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